Spring football can be a good time to introduce new preventative measures. The novelty of new programming can be a relative distraction in the fall, but that is less of a concern during spring practice.
The use of taping or bracing for injury prevention (ankles, thumbs, etc.) should be considered, but not simply as a response to a “good” or “bad” year of injuries. For linemen on both sides of the ball, the use of custom or off-the-shelf knee braces could end up preventing a major injury and the possibility of missing the fall season. The fiscal cost of adding new prevention programming must be weighed against the opportunity to negate time-loss injuries.
Muscle strains, often referred to as soft tissue injuries, tend to make a resurgence during spring football practices. Every effort should be made to prepare student-athletes during winter lifting and conditioning for the physical aspect of spring ball.
Implementation of a quality dynamic warm-up should involve movement of every joint that will be used for the sport, in every direction that the joints will be required to move. The dynamic warm-up should steadily increase in speed and intensity as it progresses, effectively increasing the blood flow to all of the muscles and the central nervous system (the nerves and the brain).
Prevention of soft tissue injuries can also be linked to the construction of the daily practice schedule. The timing of drills should be well-thought-out. Practice periods that require full-speed sprints from skill players should follow individual drills that further allow players to warm up properly.
Also, give consideration to special teams periods, when certain skill players may not be participating. A wide receiver should not go directly to 7-on-7 drills after “watching” a period of punt and a period of kickoff. Full speed 7-on-7 after 10-15 minutes of inactivity is risky.
Additionally, student-athletes should not participate in lower body lifts prior to practice or running activities when maximal effort and speed will be required during practice.
With the heightened attention to head injuries and concussions, spring practices provide an opportunity to redefine and reinforce fundamental tackling and blocking. Those who are unable to correctly apply the principles of safe technique should be pulled aside for proper instruction and possibly limited in their participation in team activity. They can be a danger to themselves and others.
Drills that can help teach proper technique include tackling and blocking drills on pads or dummies, without helmets. Removing the helmet from these drills has been shown to produce and reproduce safer technique in thud and full-contact activity when they put their helmet back on.
This article was written by Jeremy Baxter PT, ATC, SCS, MPT, MAT, Senior Athletic Trainer and Co-Rehabilitation Coordinator, and Tory Lindley MA, ATC, Associate Athletic Director, Director of Athletic Training Services and Head Football Athletic Trainer, Northwestern University.